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Jon Klassen’s Hats November 10, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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The bookstore where I work was lucky enough to host writer/illustrator Jon Klassen relatively recently, which made me go back and re-read his Geisel award winning title from last year, I Want My Hat Back. This year, Mr. Klassen has written a companion book, also about an animal who lost his hat. Only this time, the new book–This Is Not My Hat— is written from the point of view of the hat thief, rather than the hat’s owner. There are other ways that the second title is something of an inversion of the first. I Want My Hat Back takes place on land, against a backdrop of flat cream with only a few straggly weeds and stones to suggest the ground. This Is Not My Hat, by contrast, takes place underwater, in dark black water broken up by the tall leafy plants that are rendered so beautifully on the endpapers.

Both books are beautiful, as well as laugh-out-loud funny. However, I think that This Is Not My Hat is my favorite of the two, because of the absolutely spot on pacing. I Want My Hat Back has multiple voices, as the story follows the main character bear through his conversations with a fox, frog, rabbit, snake, etc. But none of those conversations goes beyond a single exchange of sentences until the reindeer, who has the smarts to ask what the missing hat looks like.  The repetitive nature of the conversations (and the sheer silliness of some of the animals’ responses) gives the story comedy. However, I think to a certain extent, the reader has to add their own odd voices or pacing in order to really make the story funny.

This Is Not My Hat, in contrast, has a single narrator and the comedy comes from the contrast between his words and the scenes that the reader (or listener) can see floating by. The narrator (a very tiny fish) has stolen a hat from a much larger fish who was fortunately asleep. As the narrator confidently asserts, the hat was too small for that big fish anyway, the only witness to the theft won’t give him away and there is a safe hiding place just up ahead. Where I Want My Hat Back had conversations on most pages, This Is Not My Hat has mostly single sentences above each wide spread of the fish moving through the water. And without any need for additional voices, or dramatics, those simple sentences build up the suspense slowly, as the reader realizes that the little tiny fish just might be in a lot more trouble than it thinks. The brilliant pacing, achieved through the interplay between words and visuals make this one of my favorite picture books of the year.

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